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ECD Boss Calls Tennessee Tower Idea 'Temporary'

ECD Boss Calls Tennessee Tower Idea 'Temporary'

By Phil Williams. CREATED Apr 16, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There's a new twist in the tale about how the Haslam administration considered giving away a state office building to a big corporation.

One of the governor's commissioners is offering up an explanation for that novel idea, but that explanation raises some puzzling new questions.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates had obtained a script, prepared for the governor to deliver in a video presentation for Sears, offering it the Tennessee Tower state office building. It was part of a 2011 effort to convince the retail giant to relocate its corporate headquarters to Tennessee.

The recruitment effort was dubbed "Project Neptune."

"We're so committed to making your new home in Tennessee that we are prepared to offer you one of the premiere buildings in Nashville's thriving downtown," the script read.

"Our state office building, the Tennessee Tower, can be an instantaneous and immediate home for Project Neptune's corporate headquarters. This highly visible and historic building offers over 600,000 square feet of prime office space -- located conveniently across from Legislative Plaza and a stone's throw away from my office in the state Capitol."

The Haslam administration has insisted the script, drafted by the governor's economic development team, never got past the governor.

"It's one of those things that we talked about, but we never presented it to the company," Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty told the Associated Press.

Still, Hagerty insisted that the idea was just to offer Sears a "temporary" home and that the Tennessee Tower was suggested because it could house large numbers of workers on short notice.

In fact, the script never uses the word "temporary," and it's not clear how state workers could have been moved on short notice. 

And why would Sears have needed temporary offices?

"If Sears had accepted an offer from anybody to move, they would have been persona non grata pretty fast in Illinois," Hagerty told the AP. "So we figured they'd want to move quickly."

Again, it's not clear why a big corporation like Sears would have really needed to get out of town -- or that they would have wanted to move their corporate headquarters twice, first into temporary space, then later into a permanent location.

The Haslam administration has repeatedly refused to go on camera to answer our questions on those issues.

But the governor reiterated to The Tennessean that the idea was rejected.

"We have employees all the time that say, 'Hey, what if we did such and such?'" Haslam told The Tennessean's editorial board. "I can tell you that as governor that was never seriously considered and was definitely never offered to Sears."

The Haslam administration has refused to release the video that the governor did record for Sears, saying it's confidential.

Back to NC5 Investigates: Tennessee's Secret Deals
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Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.